Korean Gender Reader

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1) 60% of underage female entertainers pressured to expose as much skin as possible

( Source )

1) 60% of underage female entertainers pressured to expose as much skin as possible

Lest that sound like an exaggeration in light of other news articles that state that only 10% are, let me refer you to the relevant section in the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family’s (여성가족부; MOGEF) own report on its survey of 103 teenage entertainers and aspirants (53 males, 50 females), which specifically says:

19세 미만의 청소년 연예인(88명) 응답을 분석한 결과, 연예 활동 시 10.2%가 신체 부위(다리, 가슴, 엉덩이 등) 노출을 경험하였으며, 여성 청소년 연예인의 경우 60%가 강요에 의한 노출이라고 응답하였다.

Or that of the 88 male and female teenage entertainers interviewed (not aspirants), 10.2% said they had the experience of exposing parts of their bodies (legs, breasts, buttocks, and so on) while performing, whereas 60% of the female ones had been pressured to.

Which remains confusing, but I think it’s safe to assume that the 10.2% of cases of exposure by males and females referred to were accidental (albeit because of their clothing?), and that the 60% of females that were coerced to wear skimpy clothing were in little position to refuse. Whatever the true figures however, they belie recent claims that such fashions are somehow intrinsically empowering in a sexual and/or feminist sense, or that it’s the girls themselves that want to wear them (and recall that Girls’ Generation above, for one, was specifically created to appeal to 30 and 40-something men).

Meanwhile, they’re also pressured to go on diets and get cosmetic surgery and so on, and teenagers of both sexes miss out on schooling and work excessively long hours because – bizarrely – entertainers aren’t covered by child labor laws. See the above links and also Extra! Korea and JoongAng Daily for a summary of all the issues raised by the survey, and kudos to MOGEF for finally doing something within its limited budget (0.12% of the government total) that may nevertheless ultimately have a genuine impact on young women’s lives (unlike here, here, here, and here).

2) Subway groping on the rise

In Seoul at least. By coincidence, Busan Mike saw an incident in Busan last week too, although of course that doesn’t necessarily imply that it’s rising in Busan also.

3) THAT video

Yes, Mamma Mia by Narsha (나르샤) of the Brown Eyed Girls (브라운 아이드 걸스), which a dozen readers passed on to me because it’s so rare to see Korean female/Western male pairings in the Korea media. I can’t really add anything that Mellowyel hasn’t already covered in her own excellent analysis of it though (see here also), but you may be interested in this 2002 S.E.S (에스.이.에스) video that it instantly reminded me of, as the contrast in the treatment of the Western men in it couldn’t be greater:

Despite how it may appear though, Matt at Gusts of Popular Feeling argues that in fact they’re a substitute for Korean men, who wouldn’t have accepted being portrayed so negatively. Why not? See this *cough* 4500 word post of mine on that here, in which I place it into the context of Korean social and sexual norms in the late-1990s and early-2000s.

4) Number of female victims of sexual abuse is 8 times greater than actually reported

Unfortunately no details are given about its methodology, but according to a recent study by Korean Institute of Criminology, about 470 out of every 100,000 women were sexually abused in 2008, which is eight times more than the official figure of 58. Of those, 36 out of 100,000 were raped, 9.5 times the official number.

Like the reader who sent those on to me pointed out, of course it’s not news that most cases go unreported, but it is nice to see this fact getting some attention from the national news agency.

Update: Korea Beat has a little more information on it here, noting that “it has been the general understanding that many more sexual assaults occur than are reported, but this study is the first to produce relatively concrete figures” (my emphasis).

5) Korean Demographic Reader

As always, rather depressing news:

More interesting are two stories about Japan, with very similar problems (and for similar reasons). First, an article entitled “Families dictate Japan’s economic fate” from The Japan Times, which describes how one scholar:

…uses the cases of families collecting dead members’ pensions and the rise of “parasite singles” to point out how a rich, vital economy can sink so far it has no realistic chance of climbing back up. Low birthrate is a problem, but mainly as a consequence of Japan’s “failure to create jobs.” The Japanese media has not ignored this connection, but in general they still blame population contraction on social changes rather than economic ones, as if the two were somehow distinct. Men have become less aggressive, women too choosy; so they don’t marry and procreate.

Many Japanese still believe that the country’s economic and social problems can be solved by regaining so-called traditional values related to family and community…

And as it demonstrates, that is patently not the case. But as for more detail as to why, see the recently published Contemporary Japan: History, Politics and Social Change Since the 1980s by Jeff Kingston, reviewed here by the Economist:

THE modern image of Japan is built on shaky foundations. In the 1980s nearly all Japanese considered themselves middle class. Other abiding beliefs include companies looking after workers through lifetime employment and the yakuza, Japan’s mafia, being guardians of the lost samurai spirit. There is some truth in all this but, as with other national myths, their real importance is in what they reveal about those who hold them dear.

If the Japanese nurse old-fashioned conceptions about their national identity, so do foreigners. Throughout the 1980s Americans gobbled up books that painted a Japan that was poised to surpass the United States by dint of a superior education system, low crime rate, good labor relations, bureaucratic acumen, familial ties and (let it not be forgotten) racial purity. Most foreigners still see Japan in the rear-view mirror, as an egalitarian, socially cohesive society.

“Contemporary Japan” by Jeff Kingston, the director of Asian studies at Temple University in Japan, does sterling service in stripping away or qualifying many of these misconceptions…

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6) We married Koreans

Unfortunately for us, Diana of Going Places is now back in the US, but she’s still taken the time to write a review of We Married Koreans (2009), “a collection of 12 true stories of interracial, intercultural marriages between American women and Korean men in the 1960s”. A quick excerpt:

…It tells a fascinating history, both personal and cultural, of Korea as it struggled towards democracy (one woman’s husband was imprisoned for anti-government demonstrations in Korea) and America as it struggled towards racial equality (many of the women speak frankly about some of the racial epithets hurled at their children). The couples mostly met, married, and lived in America, but most lived for at least a short time in Korea and one missionary couple spent most of their marriage in the Korean expat community in Brazil. I feel like I just sat down and read 12 very good personal blogs about Korea.

Read the rest here. By coincidence, the World Federation of Korean Intermarried Women’s Association’s 6th annual conference, whose members are Korean women married to foreign men, was just held in Seattle, the first to be held outside of Korea.

7) Korea’s national motto is  “Just Bear It”?

Gord Sellar makes quite a convincing case:

Pretty much every time someone I know is doing something against his or her better judgment, something he or she clearly ought not to be doing — working a job he or she absolutely hates, coddling an abusive or infantile parent, turning down a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, or studying a subject for which he or she feels no interest — you can usually find a number of people have told the person that it’s important to “just bear it” — ie. bear with it, put up with your dissatisfaction, ignore your instincts, and do the thing you know you shouldn’t.

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While I’m sure long-timers especially need little convincing, let me buttress that with the following from the Samsung Economic Research Institute in 2008 (my emphasis):

…In sum, Koreans still regard their jobs principally as a means of livelihood. This mirrors the reality here in Korea where work does little to enrich the life of the people.

Many workers still take it for granted that they have to tolerate anything in return for getting paid. This kind of job atmosphere produces a negative influence on both companies and employees alike. With this in mind, businesses need to make more efforts to develop new programs, aimed at bringing a higher sense of value of work and satisfaction to their employees.

And I can vouch that even my wife finds it surprisingly difficult to conceive of how one’s job can ever be anything but sheer drudgery, let alone something one can enjoy and/or find it fulfilling.

Focusing on the gender dimension here though, Gord was prompted towards the above by a recent encounter in a hospital with a family with an abusive husband and father, and while I concur with his assessment that the wife was at least partially responsible for her situation, his story does provide a very human face to the extreme financial difficulties middle-aged women, most of whom are housewives, have in leaving loveless and/or abusive marriages (although it’s amazing that the divorce rate is so high nevertheless).

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8) Civil service exams to be abolished

While that may sound trivial to Western readers, in Korea it is anything but, as over 200,000 young Koreans are studying for them at any one time.

Why so many? Because the civil service remains one of the few institutions after the Asian Financial Crisis of 1997 which still provides  “jobs for life”, unlike the rest of the Korean economy which now has the highest number of irregular workers in the OECD. Consequently, the various exams are extremely competitive, and indeed one of my own sisters-in-law spent over 4 years studying for hers before finally qualifying…for a series of grueling interviews, which many applicants still fail (including a friend of mine), but fortunately she made it through those as well.

Why this is a gender issue is because despite the difficulties, at least it is entirely meritocratic, and as such it has a disproportionate number of female applicants. Compare the private sector in contrast, where Gord Sellar’s partner was recently required to provide answers like the following in her application for a job at a major Korean company for instance:

  • list your brothers and sisters, and their places of employment
  • how old are your siblings?
  • what is your father’s job?
  • is your mother a housewife?
  • what is your height?
  • what is your weight?
  • what is your religion?
  • are you the descendant of a war veteran?

And don’t forget that a photo is also required, which as you can see above, has led to a flourishing photoshopping industry catering to job applicants.

We Married Koreans, a collection of 12 true stories of interracial, intercultural marriages between American women and Korean men in the 1960s. The collection is edited by Gloria Goodwin Hurh, whose own story appears in Chapter 5.

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Filed under: Korean Gender Reader Tagged: 나르샤, Groping, 여성가족부, Mamma Mia, Ministry of Gender Equality and Family, MOGEF, Narsha



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